Collision Avoidance Systems: The Keys to Road Safety

With traffic fatalities rising at an alarming rate, collision avoidance systems are a promising solution.

cars without collision avoidance systemsPer the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), almost 1.3 million people die in road accidents each year with an additional 20-50 million injured. That averages 3,287 global fatalities a day, making auto accidents the 9th leading cause of death. The World Health Organization (WHO) broke that down even further in 2015. Within low and lower-middle income populations, road deaths came in at number 10, but within the upper-middle class it ranked 7 just below Alzheimer’s Disease, but above both Liver and Stomach Cancer.

Then on February 15, 2017, it was reported that traffic fatalities in the United States would reach over 40,000 for 2016. That is the highest level since 2007 and one that has safety experts, law enforcement and automakers alike scrambling for solutions. While distracted driving and speeding certainly contribute to this uptick, many feel the biggest issue is complacency with enforcing seat belt and cell phone usage laws. Per ASIRT, if something isn’t done to stem this trend, car accidents will rise to number five by 2030. The technology that enables connected cars and autonomous vehicles has long been touted as the answer to everything from traffic congestion to traffic fatalities. In the case of the latter, collision avoidance systems are arguably the key to drastically reducing these tragedies—if not completely abolishing them.

The evolution of vehicle safety

pre-collision avoidance systems carWhile it’s a priority of today’s automakers, vehicle safety met with a great deal of resistance when cars were first created. The innovative machines were originally made of wood, had no doors, windows or turn signals, and were stopped by the equivalent of a bicycle brake—leather pads that pressed against the tires when activated by hand levers. These drove on unpaved roads without stop signs or traffic lights. True, top speed was 10 mph (16 km/h), however, little consideration was given to the safety of the people in the car and pedestrians on the street alike.

Crashes, on the other hand, have been a part of automobile history since the beginning. The first gas-powered car collision was in 1891 when inventor James Lambert was driving his single-cylinder automobile with a friend, ran over a tree root, lost control and hit a hitching post. Both men walked away with only minor injuries. The first gas-powered traffic fatality occurred in England in 1896 when Mrs. Bridget Driscoll was crossing the street and saw a self-powered horseless carriage barrelling (4 mph) down upon her. The driver, Arthur Edsall, sounded his horn, yelled to her to, “Watch out!”, but she was frozen by the sight of the horseless Roger-Benz motor car and was struck. At the inquest, which ruled it “accidental death,” the coroner commented, “I trust that this sort of nonsense will never happen again.”

The impact of Unsafe at Any Speed

The earliest safety features in cars were shatterproof glass and four-wheel brakes in the late 1920s. By the ‘30s all car bodies were steel instead of wood and hydraulic brakes were introduced. However, it was the 3-point seat belt created by safety engineer, Nils Bohlin of Volvo in 1959, that truly revolutionized and advanced automotive safety. While the seat belt is seen as the single most effective protection in an accident, other than the introduction of more efficient braking systems, none of these innovations helped cars avoid or lessen an actual collision.

The belt, however, was not standard on every car and when Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile was published in 1965, there were over 47,000 fatal crashes reported in the United States alone. The book highlighted the lack of government involvement in the safety of motor vehicles and led to an almost immediate response. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) was created within ten months of its release to oversee the safety and standards of the transportation industry. Then, in 1970, the Highway Safety Act was signed and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was born. Since that time there have been significant strides in protecting both drivers and those who come in contact with the vehicles on the road.

The ins and outs of collision avoidance systems

visual for collision avoidance systems From pushing for better highways to support safer driving to producing autonomous cars as a way to alleviate a variety of vehicle related issues, focusing on ways to keep people safe while traveling on roads is a global initiative. Crash or collision avoidance systems are an integral part of this.

Collision avoidance systems consist of a bundling of sensors and tools that assist connected cars in getting the world to a true Vision Zero future. The different features that go into collision avoidance technology create an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) to support a safer, more stable driving experience. These range from the familiar anti-lock braking system (ABS) to its more advanced automatic emergency braking (AEB) offspring and far beyond. The below are different features in ADAS and what they do.

Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS), Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and Traction Control

One of the first technologies to assist in crash avoidance, anti-lock braking systems (ABS) were implemented in 1978. The ABS adjusts brake pressure to combat any locking of wheels that can cause a spinout and/or further damage to either vehicle. Electronic stability control (ESC) and traction control are two crash avoidance technologies directly linked to ABS. With ESC, when a car spins out, brakes are applied to different wheels and engine power is decreased to help stabilize the vehicle. Traction control works with the ABS wheel speed sensors to determine if engine power needs to decrease to allow one of the tires to regain traction in slippery conditions.

Forward Collision Warning

A key feature in crash avoidance, forward collision warning (FCW) uses sensors to determine how close an automobile is getting to either a vehicle or obstacle in front of it. If a crash seems imminent, the system alerts the driver—through sounds, lights or both—to react. FCW is a warning technology, not an automatic responder—it will not autonomously apply brakes or control the steering wheel to avoid a collision.

Automatic (or Autonomous) Emergency Braking (AEB)

This collision avoidance technology detects potential crashes and emergency situations the car is about to face then autonomously steps in to either avoid or lessen an impact should the driver not react in time. NHTSA strongly advocates AEB to lower fatalities and injuries on the road. Currently, it exists two ways: dynamic brake support (DBS) and crash imminent braking (CIB). DBS automatically augments how hard a driver presses on the brake pedal, and CIB slows or even stops the car to halt a collision or reduce its impact when a driver simply doesn’t react quickly enough. Either system will be standard on all U.S. models by 2022.

Lane Departure Warning (LDW)/Lane Departure Prevention (LDP)

Lane departure warning (LDW) systems use a variety of signals to alert you when your car is drifting too close to a lane so you can correct it. The alert may be a sound, vibrating seats or steering wheels, a visual cue with a light flashing and more. The system works through a mix of sensors and cameras that register lane markings and is triggered when the car gets too close to those lines or breaches them. This is different than lane departure prevention (LDP), which is autonomously proactive and will do such things as apply the brakes or connect with the steering wheel to gently turn your car to correct unintentional lane changing, which helps avoid a crash. LDW and LDP assume the potential lane change is accidental if the turn signal is not activated and will automatically shut off when you put on your blinker. As long as it’s on, the system remains dormant. The biggest goal with LDW and LDP is to lower the single car highway accident. Per AAA, these systems have the potential to do so by approximately 46% once they are installed on a broad scale.

Adaptive Headlights

Adaptive headlights have a self-leveling system that senses how a car is moving and reacts to the terrain and driving habit of the operator. The level sensor uses electric servomotors to adjust the intensity of the lights and their position to stay on the highway and maintain visibility around curves, over hills and when approaching road hazards. These are currently required on all new cars in Europe and all U.S. cars that have bi-xenon headlights.

Blind-Spot Detection

Blind spots cause a myriad of issues while driving, and mirrors and quick looks over the shoulder can only capture so much area. Blind-spot detection uses either sensors or cameras to project preventative information about the hardest areas to see around the car. In some models the driver can turn the system on or off. Some vehicles, like the more recent Infiniti M-Series, also offer steering resistance if the driver doesn’t heed the warning signal.

Note on rear-end collision avoidance

Rear-end collisions account for a vast majority of traffic accidents. Currently, there are no specific collision avoidance systems created to deal with this issue, but all of the components combined address all manner of vehicle incidents including rear-end collisions.

Situational Awareness

V2V connectingIn its most basic form, situational awareness is all about keeping alert to your surroundings at all times. It affects us everyday whether it’s walking down the street, moving through the halls at work or driving our car. Staying clued into what’s going on around you is the first step to collision avoidance. Technology has added an extra level of safety through the installation of sensors and cameras into connected cars to boost a driver’s situational awareness while operating his or her automobile. However, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology keeps the automobile updated on things even LIDAR can’t see. With V2V, cars speak to each other, sharing information about proximity to other automobiles and road conditions. This enhances the vehicle’s situational awareness and is one of the innovations that makes the autonomous operation of these vehicles possible.

Pushing forward technology

In March of 2016, U.S. DOT, NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) announced that 20 automakers had committed to making automatic emergency braking  (AEB) standard on all new cars by September 1, 2022. These 20 make up 99 percent of the U.S. auto market. By getting the car manufacturers to agree to this, the technology will be available sooner than would be the case if the NHTSA put the makers through the normal regulatory process.

As part of that commitment, the following is agreed:

  • AEB will be standard on almost all light-duty cars and small trucks with a gross weight of 8,500 lbs. or less by September 1, 2022 and virtually every truck with a gross vehicle weight between 8,501 and 10,000 lbs. by September 1, 2025.
  • Automakers who have signed on will ensure the vehicles have both a forward collision warning system that “meets a subset of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s current 5-Star Safety Ratings program requirements on the timing of driver alerts and an automatic braking system that earns at least an advanced rating in the current Insurance Institute for Highway Safety front crash prevention track tests. The baseline performance measures are a speed reduction of at least 10 mph in either the IIHS 12 or 25 mph tests, or a speed reduction of 5 mph in both of the tests.”
  • IIHS and NHTSA will implement an annual monitoring and updating system on safety progress.

The IIHS and NHTSA believe employing these safety measures will prevent 28,000 crashes and 12,000 injuries per year.

Top 2017 vehicles with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS)

collision avoidance alert on dashboardThe future of ADAS now lies within cracking the autonomous vehicle code. All of the technology going into these systems are part of the driverless toolkit and as self-driving cars evolve, so will collision avoidance systems. Automakers have already incorporated several safety features for their 2017 vehicles, which include the following:

  • forward-collision warning
  • auto braking city speed
  • auto braking highway speed
  • lane departure warning (LDW)
  • lane departure prevention (LDP)
  • blind-spot warning
  • rear-cross traffic
  • rearview camera

The following car models come with all of these collision avoidance systems features as standard:

  • Acura RLX year 2016/2017
  • Cadillac CTS V 2017
  • Genesis G80 2017
  • Genesis G90 2017
  • Honda Accord Hybrid 2017
    • This car offers Honda Lane Watch in the blind-spot warning category. This feature is a camera mounted in the outside passenger mirror that looks down the side of the car. It does not show the driver’s side at the moment and doesn’t alert you if a car is in the blind spots on either side.
  • Lexus LX 2017

Some models with noted safety capability:

  • The 2016/2017 Tesla S and X offer all features except rear-cross traffic.
  • Rear view cameras are standard on every Subaru model for 2016/2017 while all of the other safety features are offered as optional on all models except three.
  • All 2016/2017 Volvos offer the features in a combination of optional and standard.
  • Other than just a handful of models in the 2016, 2017 and 2016/2017 class, Toyota’s 2016/2017 fleet provide the safety systems either as optional or standard.

Things to consider

driver POV through rainy windshieldThe combination of these collision avoidance features creates a safer driving experience and automakers around the world are actively installing these systems in their vehicles to lower the instances of crashes. Drivers, however, need to understand that for all of the technology and innovation that is being implemented, they need to stay alert behind the wheel. Nothing completely stops a crash automatically and handing over the reins to your connected car entirely leads to dangerous consequences. As the autonomous car movement advances forward, so will the systems meant to avoid and lessen traffic fatalities and injury, but human intervention and addressing infrastructure will be necessary even when the steering wheel is a thing of the past.

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Automated Vehicles and the Government: Connecting Through DOT

connecting automated vehicles and the American governmentOn September 19, 2016, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) is implementing policies to regulate and support the manufacturing and street readiness of automated vehicles. This giant leap forward comes after several meetings with industry professionals, public input forums and consultations with tech companies. Called the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy, the 116-page plan offers four key points of focus and a 15-point safety assessment that gives guidelines for manufacturers to follow.

Unique preparation for a new world of automated vehicles

This forward movement on automated vehicles is new for government. Traditionally, regulations and auto legislation are put into effect after market penetration of a new technology. It is a reactive, not a proactive, process. The way the current policy is rolling out is very different and something DOT and federal lawmakers are specifically highlighting in their current announcement. The desire is to encourage and manage appropriate innovation in the automotive sector to ensure the technology is safe. And safety is the No. 1 reason for this collaborative effort between lawmakers and the automated vehicle community.

Last year, out of 35,200 car-related deaths, 94 percent were due to human error. As Secretary Foxx shares in his statement, “Automated vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives, driving the single biggest leap in road safety that our country has ever taken.”

Secretary Foxx goes on to add, “This policy is an unprecedented step by the federal government to harness the benefits of transformative technology by providing a framework for how to do it safely.” It is a framework that innovators can follow as they are in process, rather than having to backtrack to play catch-up.

President Obama weighed in on the federal government’s decision with an OpEd piece for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He touches on the issues of safety, but also on providing mobility for those who no longer have it. “And right now, for too many senior citizens and Americans with disabilities, driving isn’t an option. Automated vehicles could change their lives,” the president wrote.

A vision of tomorrow realized today

visionofthefuture

As President Obama points out, the technology and innovation behind automated vehicles have already gone from sci-fi fantasy to fast-moving reality. The potential benefits are huge, but so are the dangers if government doesn’t help mitigate those risks and support companies as they seek to eliminate them. However, the goal is not to over-regulate, but to work in tandem with these technological achievements. It is the reason why the policy is meant to be flexible and allow for growth as the industry grows and changes.

But as excited as the administration and DOT are about the potential of automated vehicles, the president is adamant about one thing, “And make no mistake: If a self-driving car isn’t safe, we have the authority to pull it off the road. We won’t hesitate to protect the American public’s safety.”

This solution is not set in stone quite yet. The public is encouraged to share whatever questions, concerns, comments, etc. it may have about the policy with the DOT over the next 60 days. In addition, President Obama is hosting the first White House Frontiers Conference on October 13 in Pittsburgh. It focuses on new technologies and how to implement these innovations to best serve the public. It is open to everyone to come and share, learn and discover together. The conference looks at how we, as a nation, can expand our scientific knowledge, what can we learn from the rest of the world and how we can all work together to make people’s lives better. The summit is concentrating on more than the next big thing. It’s also investigating what those inventions can do to make the world a better place.

With every new day, the future is getting closer. And as it does, so too is the realization that government support and involvement during the innovation process is key to true progress.

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Transportation Infrastructure: The Future of Autos and Beyond

the face of the world's transportation infrastructure

When the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act passed in 2015, $305 billion was earmarked for innovative highway, motor vehicle and safety projects over the next four years. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) responded by funding several grants to move current and new transportation infrastructure plans forward. It is expanding the potential for passenger and freight travel while encouraging innovation on actual roads themselves. However, there are many parts and pieces to the new world of transportation beyond what is even outlined in the different documents available on DOT’s website. These are not just limited to the U.S., but globally. The future of how we get from one place to another – or not – is changing travel and how we communicate.

The changing face of transportation infrastructure

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) presented its “Assessing the global transport infrastructure market: Outlook to 2025” report in October 2015. The professional services giant looks at where the world is going with its investment in inter- and multimodal forms of transportation based on region over the next decade. PWC predicts an increase in port and rail innovations/renovations, a decline in airport infrastructure projects and variable rising and falling in automobile-based programs. The study also highlights infrastructure projects that are growing in less-developed nations. Various territories are creating better ways to connect within their own areas and make it possible to be more open to those traveling from outside their regions. Laying the groundwork for more engagement boosts the economy in these once underserved countries as well as provides a much-needed financial benefit to developed nations.

The role of freight and safety

The FAST Act is specifically created to address ground transportation, which means airplane fleets are not included. However, there is some mention of shipping and port innovations. This is heavily based on concerns over traffic congestion and safety issues surrounding the movement of freight, which includes the containers themselves as well as the items being transported.

As DOT deals with different commercial and fleet needs, it is implementing changes in how certain cargo is shipped. The agency is also loosening restrictions and lag times for new freight-based construction projects, setting the stage to create an abundance of more streamlined delivery systems. Funding is shifting to accommodate faster movement on breaking ground for those programs as well as expediting the handling and transfer of hazardous materials during times of crisis. It is DOT’s goal to get transportation infrastructure projects up and running as soon as possible. Its focus on freight ensures that bottlenecks at the docks and on waterways and roads become a thing of the past so that economies continue will thrive with timely shipping and receiving.

The controversy surrounding high-speed rail

the U.S. keeps waiting for dedicated high-speed trains

Is high-speed rail a pipe dream for America?

It’s true that America is far behind other countries when it comes to its railways. The nation’s trains are slower for the most part even after the passage of President Obama’s high-speed rail bill. Many lines have been upgraded to get riders from Point A to Point B faster, but true dedicated high-speed rail lines don’t exist anywhere in the U.S. The planned bullet train for California is on hold – and may never see the light of day – and other states like Florida and Ohio have returned federal funds for their programs. The reasons for the rejections are concerns over cost overruns and states’ being on the hook to subsidize the lines long after construction and well into operation. Creating a strong public transport system is one of those green vehicle initiatives that usually has supporters, so what is it about this form of travel that has created such an issue for so many Americans?

The cost to implement a high-speed rail system is exorbitant. Maintaining it is also a huge financial burden. Government subsidies need to be in place for many years beyond when the actual lines open. Out of all of the dedicated fast train services in the world, only three cover their operating costs without any help from their governments: Japan’s Shinkansen, China’s Shanghai Maglev and the section of the Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) that connects Paris to Lyon. As the U.S. looks to duplicate those successes, more and more cities and states are opting out. The focus is going toward making railroad freight service more efficient and upgrading cargo trains so they are faster. Many believe you create speedier passenger options or freight carriers. The economies and transportation infrastructure of the different regions can’t handle the burden of both.

Cars are things of the past… maybe

While our roads and the different ways we travel are updated, will alternative modes push cars off the roads? Forget about self-driving pods that take you wherever you want to go without your having to lift a finger (or steer a wheel). Ignore what you’ve heard about those hyper-communicative connected vehicles that talk to streets, each other and digital devices to make for a smoother, safer ride. Ever heard of the Hyperloop? Maybe you’ve read things about Elio.  Surely, you’ve heard of telecommuting or working remotely right? And maybe it’s not losing the car, but losing the road as we’ve come to know it – how about solar-powered highways?

All of these are innovations in travel that could either make the car obsolete or change the highways on which we travel to such an extent that the transportation infrastructure we’ve grown accustomed to is now obsolete. Besides the Hyperloop, each of these are either in use (telecommuting/remote working), currently being tested (Solar Roadways in Missouri) or on the verge of implementation (Elio, not a motorcycle and not really a car, but something in between). What all of these forms of movement offer are ways to create safer, more efficient and environmentally-friendly ways of getting around.

And in regards to the Hyperloop, it may or may not ever be anything besides a really cool sketch of a super fast, sci-fi commuter “train” shooting through a tube at such high speeds, people wonder if it will turn all of our insides into mush. But there have been tests and that’s what everyone thought about self-driving cars, didn’t they?

What now?

So what does all of this mean in travel? As the world moves forward, how we get around will constantly be reevaluated, reinvented and reconsidered. Traffic congestion is at an all-time high, which means finding new green initiatives to battle the effects of pollutants in the air are more important than ever. This goes beyond just great electric vehicles (EV). It also encompasses renovating our transportation infrastructure so it will better accommodate the new ways in which we get around. That’s where Vehicle-to-Government (V2Gov) practices come into play as well as important legislation to get things like the FAST Act ratified and keeping transportation in step with the 21st century.

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